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Coroner retrieves McKnight's body for further work

The Jefferson Parish coroner’s office collected slain football star Joe McKnight’s remains from a funeral home Wednesday, another surprising twist in a case that has drawn national attention for how authorities have handled the investigation.

The coroner said he did not perform a third autopsy on McKnight, but collected tissue from McKnight’s gunshot wounds as evidence. That move comes six days after McKnight was shot to death in a road-rage incident, five days after the coroner’s initial autopsy and two days after a second, independent forensic examination was performed by a private pathologist.

“It took less than 10 minutes,” Coroner Gerry Cvitanovich said. “We excised those wounds. We collected them in the event that they’re needed in the future.”

He said Wednesday’s examination was not a third autopsy and did nothing to change the conclusions he and his staff made based on Friday’s autopsy.

Racial tension was already running high over Sheriff Newell Normand’s decision to wait more than four days to arrest Ronald Gasser, a 54-year-old white man who shot the 28-year-old McKnight, who is black.

And Wednesday’s created more confusion and concern for McKnight’s family, according to a source close to the family who spoke to WWL-TV anonymously because she was not authorized to speak on the family’s behalf.

MORE: Normand criticizes social media comments on McKnight investigation

She said the family decided to have a private autopsy performed on Saturday, after the coroner had released McKnight’s corpse back to Rhodes Funeral Home. But Cvitanovich said that he and his team had a sense on Friday that the family would want a second autopsy done, and that’s why they decided not to excise any tissue around the bullet holes during their first examination.

“It was a natural assumption on our position to expect there was going to be another autopsy done,” Cvitanovich said.

Cvitanovich said it's very rare to collect tissue samples as evidence, rather than simply recording them and photographing the wounds for use at trial.

“In many if not most cases, it’s not even done,” Cvitanovich said of the excision of the wound tissue. “This was done to do everything we can to achieve justice.”

But he said it would have looked like his office was “hiding the ball” if the wound tissue had been extracted before the family could have the independent autopsy done.

The coroner said he spoke to McKnight’s mother, Jennifer, to make sure she understood why his office needed to collect her son’s remains again.

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